The Hunger Games: Entertainment or Addiction?

By Kathleen Pickering http://www.kathleenpickering.com

Saw The Hunger Games this weekend.

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Wished I had not.

You know when Joe Hartlaub last blogged about addiction, it set my mind going on how addicted we are as a culture. (For example, I’ll bet you know EXACTLY where your cell phone is.)

I’m thinking folks don’t quite realize how over-stimulated we are. And, how for the love of another dopamine rush, we may be sacrificing human dignity for entertainment.

Movies and videos with their cinematography are so amazing these days that graphic portrayals can be so very vivid and real.

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They overload the retinas with sparkly, colorful, gorgeous or gruesome, oversized images. These images excite our receptors causing a chemical reaction in the brain of either excitement, pleasure or fear.

After a while, the baseline for tolerance rises and we need more stimulus just to maintain the status quo. What can we create to bring the next thrill level in our entertainment? We chatter about books, movies, video games and crave more, and more and more. While we’re briefly on the topic of video games, it is safe to say many of us do enjoy escaping from the real world and playing a couple of games on the computer or even on the Playstation. With this being said, everything in moderation is fine. If you’ve realised you spend too much time playing these sorts of games, then it is recommended you read these reviews, especially if you feel like you have tried everything to help with your back pains. Not even The Hunger Games is worth experiencing this sort of pain.

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The subjects we choose for audio/visual absorption directly relate to the heightened physiological surges we experience.

Man, oh, man, while viewing The Hunger Games I realized I’d reached my limit. I just couldn’t stomach watching beautiful young men and women accepting the order to kill each other for entertainment’s sake.

I had a really hard time with the premise of kids forced to kill or be killed. Harry Potter is fantasy. Twilight is fantasy. Walking Dead is fantasy. Avatar is fantasy—with a message against war/greed/bigotry through animation. (I LOVE James Cameron’s work.)

Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games is a parody of humanity gone animal. Fully Ego driven. Get them before they get you. Control the masses by entertaining them with the deaths of others while viewers thank their lucky stars it wasn’t them—this year.

Sorry. My visual absorption hit overload.

I’m not into censoring or anything. But, as writers, screenwriters, etc., I think we have an obligation regarding the topics we choose to call entertainment. I just wish we would stop cannibalizing humanity for entertainment’s sake.

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Folks say The Hunger Games is a lesson in ensuring we never allow too much government. I say, bull****. Kids aren’t seeing a political message as much as they are wondering if their world–now and in the future–is really safe.

Will The Hunger Games motivate them to be better human beings, or ignite their craving for more ‘shock’ stimulation, whether they know it or not? (Anybody remember Lord of the Flies? Didn’t see any huge social shift from that one, either.)

Lord of theflies

Suzanne Collins’s suggestion of our culture accepting sanctioned murder as ‘reality’ entertainment loosely disguised as political control triggered a profound sense of shame for me. I can not believe that after these thousands of years we still haven’t left the coliseum. All to stimulate our addiction. Our sense of thrill. The adrenaline or dopamine rush to escape . . . what?

I’ll be the first to say I’m a movie addict. I love the stimulation. I love the art and craft of creating words into visuals. I crave the opportunity to lose myself in make-believe worlds. But, after watching The Hunger Games—despite the fact that the acting was excellent, I think I need Stimulus-Anonymous. I’ve hit rock bottom with this one. My psyche and my soul can’t take anymore.

I’m going out to sit in the sun for awhile . . . soak in the fresh, tropical air. Meditate.

Why?

Because I know it’s only a matter of time before I get over the shock from The Hunger Games. The TV will announce the release of another heart-stopping movie. I will resist at first, but not much. I will put on my jeans and perfume, take my glasses and get to the movies early enough to catch all the upcoming trailers before my next thrill hits the silver screen. And, sadly enough, I won’t even need popcorn.

How about you?

xox, Piks

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34 thoughts on “The Hunger Games: Entertainment or Addiction?

  1. Reading the books I was drawn to Katniss & her survival, but I would imagine seeing some of the more graphic book moments magnified onscreen would be hard to watch. I have a hard time with violence in movies. I’ve never seen JAWS & I don’t do war movies or slasher flicks.

  2. I don’t like dystopian worlds personally and I haven’t read the books, and I’m not planning on seeing the movie.

    It’s like the 3rd Transformers movie – sorry, that was too much coming at me from way too many directions. That’s targeted at kids and we wonder why there’s so much hyperactivity in the world?

    Add to that the lack of parenting skills available today and I just have to shake my head at the messages our kids are exposed to.

    Piks, when you find that Stim-Anon meeting shoot me an email – I’ll come join you.

    Paula

  3. I haven’t gotten into The Hunger Games because I am not fond of gladiator themes, especially when children or teens are involved. I saw Mirror, Mirror instead. It was a bit frothy and silly but more my speed. At least I left the theater feeling happy.

  4. i did a bit of online research after realizing my nieces were into these books. they are 15 and 18… i was surprised to see that not only are schools promoting these books but some are using them in class, teachers are reading them aloud to classes. Many many years ago gladiators fought to death but they were adults not teens…i dont see the attraction…by the way, Nancy, i saw mirror mirror this weekend too:-)

  5. Hunger Games is not a unique plot. It’s Rollerball (the original version w/James Caan) and Death Race 2000 (the original Roger Corman, Sylvester Styllone as villain version). It’s also the classic one against “the dehumanizing system” mythos. It’s Spartacus. All this makes Katniss a hero in the classic sense.

    Kids killing kids is supposed to sicken us. It’s horrible. That’s the point of the first book (I haven’t read the other two, so no spoilers, though I’ve heard the third one disappoints). That’s what dystopian is all about, with Katniss representing the moral alternative.

    Anyway, I thought the movie did a good job of not dwelling on gore or violence. It kept it stylized.

    The reason I think it’s caught on is not that it is presenting a future world kids will worry about; this IS their world, in the sense that so many are products of broken homes, lousy schools, bullying, peer on peer violence and shaming, and all that. The Hunger Games isn’t glorifying gladiatorial games; quite the opposite. It’s presenting a protest against them. Thus, Katniss is tugging at a deep stream of moral goodness inside us–she never kills unless protecting another, or herself. She puts her own life on the line to save the weak (Prim and Rue). And she stands against the horrible system, and “wins” this opening battle.

    IOW, what may be happening with the popularity of this book is something that is a hopeful sign.

  6. Actually, I thought they tastefully played DOWN the violence that they could have portrayed based on the book. Especially the scene near the end.

    And I’ve seen far worse movies that tried to push the envelope with graphics and death and dread. THat’s why I refuse to go see modern westerns. In the old days, there was gunplay, but embedded within the story was typically hope. There is no light in the modern western. At least none that I have seen.

    As far as what it says about humanity–it’s not exactly fiction in the strictest sense. Mankind has from ancient times onward been that willing to kill.

    But above all that argument the thing that sticks with me about The Hunger Games is–I’ve read books that were supposed to be thought provoking pieces–that were supposed to make me scratch my head and wonder, but instead left me with a bored sigh as I walked away disappointed.

    I don’t know Ms. Collins or if she intended a message or entertainment, but I do know she managed to make me consider myself and my world a lot more then most books that critics claim serve the same purpose.

    It’s what I find missing in a lot of fiction–a lack of attention to the bigger picture of the region/country/world.

    As for what teens take away from it–that depends on what kind of adults they have surrounding them.

  7. I love quiet movies. I always have. I probably won’t see Hunger Games because it’s not my style. Unfortunately, my style is way out of vogue. Even movies which should be quiet, like From Hell and The Woman in Black, are over the top in cinematography and sound effects. Politically, I can’t offer an opinion – I haven’t seen it or read the books – but as Mr. Bell points out the plot is not new. I remember reading Lord of the Flies as a kid and being thrilled by it. I think it was because the book was so out there for its time. Or maybe it was because I had been bullied and I identified with some of its characters. Its message was not lost on me.

  8. Kathleen, you had the right base response to the concept of the games. Teenagers killing teenagers is wrong. And Collins definitely wants you to go home thinking about your own viewing habits when it comes to reality television and your belief in celebrity, and has said as much in her interviews. It’s safe to surmise that the story is actually supposed to be anti-violent. Note that on the back cover, under her bio, Scholastic says she writes about the effects of PTSD and war on children.

    However, the story you’re being told is as old as time itself. This is an update of Theseus and the Minotaur, which also featured a government imposing its will and children killing children for all to see. Rollerball, Death Race 2000, Logan’s Run, Running Man, Battle Royale, they all come from Theseus and the Minotaur. In her NYT’s interview, Collin’s discusses her derivation of Theseus in depth.

    And to Teresa d’s post, the point in teaching these books is the same as it is for Lord of the Flies or Brave New World or 1984. What’s unfortunate about The Hunger Games being taught in schools is that there is already a much better book to read covering the exact same subject matter. It’s just that it’s Japanese. But I won’t get into that.

  9. While I loved the Hunger Games as a book I have hesitated seeing the movie precisely because of the prospect of seeing what was on the page on the screen as it has quite a different visceral impact. That being said I probably will go anyway just cause I can’t resist…oh, oh, could be that addictive side of me coming out. Normally though I cannot deal with excessive violence on the screen. I reach sensory overload way too quickly!

  10. I saw Hunger Games and came away sad and disgusted, thinking about how low we have fallen as a society. I know the author had a message, but I wonder if it will get through the hype. I started to read the book on reccomendation of my daughter, but it is written in present tense, and I refuse to read books in present tense.

    Seeing that movie even made me wonder about my own WIP. Is writing murder mysteries any better than the Hunger Games? Or do we rationalize them to give them a higher purpose?

    It has me seriously wondering.

  11. I made the decision not to see the Hunger Games once I heard what it’s about. I just don’t enjoy movies that put children or animals at risk. For some reason, that scenario pierces right through my “it’s just fiction” filter. If they did a remake of Lord of the Flies, I wouldn’t see it. But I’m a wimp about this stuff. I also decided not to see War Horse and several Disney films, because I didn’t want to see animals scared or put in jeopardy. And yes, I’m still recovering from seeing Bambi when I was six! 🙂

  12. Thank you for speaking out against The Hunger Games. I have not read or seen it, don’t plan to, won’t sanction my kids doing so. There is nothing heroic about killing other people so you can survive.

  13. James– A refreshing persepctive for me to grasp. We can only hope!

    BK– Collins’s portrayal is why the work affected me so deeply. I just hope that one day we’ll be finished with this premise – forever! And, still be alive to celebrate it. LOL!

    Michael M– from one gentle soul to another, BIG HUG!!

  14. Ananymous– Don’t you find it depressing that the same awful story keeps emerging? Haven’t we learned anything . . . yet? That’s my beef. I honor the mythology, but the ORIGINAL stories were told for a lesson–maybe it’s our LISTENING skills that need tuning. LOL.

    Clare– This isn’t the worst movie out there. It’s just the “kid” aspect that got to me.

    Dave– Food for thought!

    Kathryn– BAMBI!! Me, too!! I’ll bet you cover your eyes as much as I do. Just sayin’.

  15. I love The Hunger Games trilogy, but in rapidly descending order from the first book to the last, which I actually put aside because it got boring. And I agree with Brother Bell that the violence was handled very well on the screen. In fact, I believe that a second viewing would show a virtual absence of gore.

    It will come as no surprise to anyone who reads my books that rebellion against repressive authority is a theme that resonates deeply with me. It’s the antithesis of slogging through complacency, which is exactly where every society goes immediately before a revolution. THG is JOHNNY TREMAINE redux, set in a world where the oppression is far less subtle than that which led to the American Revolution.

    Society changes on the inspiration of individual acts of defiance. Most recently, the Arab Spring (final results TBD) ignited on the match of a single protester who set himself ablaze.

    For Katniss and her crew, the 74th Annual Hunger Games are the last straw. Her actions are the pin that ruptures the well-inflated balloon of discontent. But for the wanton killing, the book would have no place to go.

    One of my favorite lines (and I think it was created for the movie, not the book), is where President Snowe (Donald Sutherland) tells the game master that the games are not about the killings. If it were about the killings, they could just hold mass executions. The Hunger Games are about the futility of hope.

    If I’d been taught books like this in 9th grade, I would have been a far more devoted English student. Instead, we got bloated stories about the quest for a whale, and some lady named Hester who had a bad tat.

    John Gilstrap
    http://www.johngilstrap.com

  16. I had to walk (actually run) out of Hunger Games because the intense shaky cam filming made me nauseous. I kid you not, I burst through the doors into the parking lot gagging.

    I don’t like over-the-top, artsy, gimmicky film-making like shaky cam. It needs to be killed with fire.

    Now, as to the story, I absolutely love the land of Dystopia and cruel, gritty themes. I want a glimmer of hope, but don’t want a neat happily-ever-after.

    I found Hunger Games, the book, to be gutting, even with the gimmicky stilted present tense (like shaky cam, I really resent a writer/director who feels the need to tell me something is intense rather than letting me experience it). The need of a bored society for bread and circuses, along with the cruel, subtle subjugation of the vanquished by the victor fascinates me.

    I would find the following poll among kids interesting: Do you see yourself as principled Katniss or a well-honed Career? Or would you likely not make it past the cornucopia?

    I’ll see it in full in vid where I can use lights and distance to undercut the effect shaky cam has on me. And Ross is not coming back for HG2, so there is a slight chance that sanity in filmmaking will prevail.

    Awesome post! Terri

  17. I haven’t and probably won’t see Hunger Games, at least not in theaters. I have a rule that I only see one or two movies in theater each year. The rest play on my big screen Plasma TV when they’re on Netflix.

    The last movie I paid to see was John Carter a couple weeks ago with my kids. I loved, in spite of the fact that the vast majority of reviews stated it was boring, and more of the same ol’ thing done too many times.

    This I think touches what you’re talking about here. Too many people have seen to many movies and are jaded by the fact that yes, they are mostly the same. There’s only so many ways we can entertain our minds legally. The drive is to become more and more violent, wild, and realistic to satisfy people’s boredom. Problem is we’re now becoming unrealistically real, way beyond reality.

    In so doing I do believe we are building a combination of calloused emotions and frightened souls into the next generation. Yet another harbinger of dark days to come if we don’t change the approach.

  18. As usual you hit it right on the head.
    I cannot bring myself to read the book or watch the movie. I couldn’t watch War Horse because I couldn’t handle the things the horse had to endure. I certainly would not enjoy watching children go through this. It’s a sad commentary to our life style, that people enjoy the theme. It’s humans at their worst…

  19. I enjoyed reading THE HUNGER GAMES. The movie was filmed around here. The huge indoor scenes were at the abandoned Phillip Morris plant, Textile village near here, NC mountains. I knew they were filming a major motion picture, but nobody disclosed the film was that one. I may see it, but it isn’t a priority out here.

  20. John– Well spoken! You’re so right about The ‘futility of hope’ line. When I heard that it was like taking a punch. I also agree that it’s a wonder the “classics” we read in Literature classes didn’t drive us to become accountants, instead!

    Thanks for the input, Teri. Love your perspective!

    Agreed, Basil. Time to change the approach! BTW- I LOVED John Carter. Go figure.

    Mary– I can’t see War Horse, either. Sigh.

    John–So that’s where the movie was filmed. The NC mountains are exquisite. I had no idea!

  21. I haven’t read the books and haven’t seen the movie. My 14 year old daughter wasn’t/isn’t interested (she reads Bradbury and Vonnegut) but her friends are all atwitter (literally) over it. I’ve been hoping that the people who go to the movie have already read the book and find the movie wanting in comparison. I enjoy car chases as much as the next guy but it seems as if the action drives the plot these days rather than vice versa. I prefer the cable TV dramas. Breaking Bad, The Killing, Justified, Sons of Anarchy, Mad Men — even Walking Dead — stress story over special effects. That seems to be the exception rather than the rule in theatrical releases anymore.

  22. I agree with James Scott Bell, BK, and John on this one.

    When HP came out, there were all sorts of revilers spouting rubbish about witchcraft. We ignored it because those of us who loved HP knew that magic happens in the book, but that isn’t what the book is about.

    It’s about a boy growing up and finding the strength to do what’s right, even though it’s hard, and could mean his life.

    The Hunger Games is no different there. Violence happens in the book. It’s dreadful. But that isn’t what the book is about.

    It’s about kids who need to be strong to survive in a hard world. It’s about people finding the courage to stand up for their rights. It’s about a girl who volunteers for certain death just to save her little sister.

    In the words of Dumbledore, we need to make a choice between doing what is right, and what is easy. The Hunger Games series is entirely about that exact idea.

    If those things aren’t worth reading about, then what is?

    I don’t mind people choosing not to read the book. That’s their business. This isn’t Fahrenheit 451, after all. And I do understand about being squeamish over violence. I won’t judge for that either.

    But what does bother me is that people revile it without even understanding what it’s about.

    The violence isn’t gratuitous, like it is in every action movie that comes out. And it’s not meant to glorify blood and guts. It’s crafted for a specific purpose. That purpose being to inspire us to become the best humans we can be.

  23. Last June I had a very poignant experience. In summary, it involved me walking into a walmart 10 minutes after finishing the Hunger Games for the second time.

    A) It scared me at seeing how not-that-far we are from becoming a society like the Capitol. It made me want to be a better person.

    And B) It reminded me how amazingly lucky we all are.

    Since that day, I literally can’t watch the movie or read the book without remembering the piles of food and the racks of clothes.

    Every time I see the book at the library where I work, I remember that I’m not starving. I’m not naked. I’m not homeless.

    It keeps me grateful. That’s the power of fiction.

  24. I read Hunger Games enthusiastically, drawn into 200 pages at the get go. Suzanne Collins’s skill for grabbing the reader is evident. However, the story felt mediocre over all and not a dystopian fan I won’t read further. Saw the film-I think I was the only one wondering when it would be over.
    * Loved GRACELING for the warrior woman YA plot, and the witting was awesome. BTW. 🙂

  25. And to those who loved Hunger Games, let me recommend “Insurgent” and the soon to drop “Divergent.”

    Set in wracked and ruined dystopian Chicago, society has split itself into 4 factions. At age 16, you are tested for your appitude. Tris eschews the spartan Abnegants to join the renegade Dauntless. Just in time for an inter-faction war to break out.

    Dark and gritty with some of the same truths as HG about coming of age.

    Terri

  26. I didn’t read the book. Nor did I intend to. However, I surrendered in order to intelligently discuss it with family, friends and associates. I have also bought the book and spot-read it. When I get my current novel completely written the first time (about 1/3 left to go), I’ll read the entire book. I find that reading novels during the first write of my WIP wobbles my focus.

    I’ll start by complimenting the author for originality. Yes, it’s a theme we are familiar with, yet it’s different enough to be praiseworthy. That said, I left the movie with the same criticism I had before I saw it, and I will state my primary objection at the end of my comments.

    As a movie, I found The Hunger Games quite entertaining. The actress cast as Katniss was a flawless decision. She is perfect for the part with her non-committal, exotic appearance. The actor playing Peeta was a dweed. I couldn’t connect with his look or emotional persona.

    The technological aspect was invigorating, and again, the concept is enviable.

    However, I noticed many dialogue lapses in which it seemed Katniss should be saying something, yet the director relied on her expressions to say it. Lovely as she is, her face is not exactly a conveyor of any deep emotions. Also, how many minutes of film must we see of her sitting in a tree? Boring.

    I found the fire balls ridiculous and amateurish. The forest becomes a blaze of fire, yet it doesn’t seem to do all that much damage. It seems “thrown in” for visual effect and computerization sake.

    And finally, my most blatant criticism is the same one I had before seeing the movie or flipping through the novel. That is, it could have been written without very young children violently killing other children. Believe it or not, the concept could just as well be served by using the 18-20 age category instead of 12-18-year-old kids.

    Yes, It would have involved writing Katniss’ great fear and protection concerning her sister in a different way (which should not be so hard with all the editors this novel surely had working on it).

    Remember, this book is wildly popular with the 10 to 15-year-old crowd. What effect may it have on young, impressionable minds? Will it increase violence among adolescents?

    With the bully situation at an all-time high (estimates say that at least 13 million kids are bullied in this country), and with the child sex predators alarmingly “on the hunt,” we do not need to make our children LESS SAFE by flocking to the coliseum *the theatre and bookstore* to see/read about youngsters thrown into adult arenas of life-and-death survival, pandering to the powers that be and hawking themselves to adults who will “sponsor” them. How gross that is…even worse than putting makeup, net stockings and garter belts on four-year-old tots and sticking them in pageants! Yes, this actually happens!

    Is our present society too blind to find this behavior objectionable? Perhaps we are closer to a society that sacrifices its young than we think.

    Personally, I object to SHOCK ENTERTAINMENT in which CHILDREN ARE USED AS BAIT, whether it’s in The Hunger Games, in front of a movie/television camera or in any other method whatsoever.

  27. Joe– I wonder if the shows stressing special effects are because the writers are so frustrated they want to blow things up! LOL!

    Sra–Believe me, I understand the message. I revile the fact that it still has to be told after all these touhsands of years. Humanity as a whole seems to be stalled when it comes to compassion and love for their fellow man. I’m really ready for a new evolution of our species. I’m just sayin’!

    The Author — Huzzah!!!

    Karen– I applaud your discerning taste!

    Terri– ANOTHER one??!!

    Jodi– Your last paragraph says it all! Thank you.

  28. I agree. Saw it with my brother. Didn’t like the feelings it left me with at the end. As a culture reading the book and watching the movie, are we more like Katniss and her people from district 12 or more like the inhabitants of the Capitol?

    Suffice it to say I read the plot of the other two books on wikipedia to satisfy my writerly curiousity about what happens next and also so that I didn’t have to watch movies 2 and 3 when the eventually come out. I have enough emotional baggage without putting myself through two more of these stories. I haven’t read the books and don’t plan to.

  29. You know, I think all of you are insane! You’re over-analyzing a book/movie meant purely for entertainment. If there is a hidden message, so be it! I absolutely ADORE these books, and I’m only 12. It’s required summer reading in my school, so OBVIOUSLY there’s nothing wrong with them…they are violent and I did have nightmares, but what all of you just so happen to be over looking is the fact that Katniss nor Peeta want to do participate in the Games… nobody in the Districts do (except maybe the Careers), and I think remaining humane in the face of evil is a MUCH better message then, I love you, you love me, let’s kill ourselves. Cough cough, Romeo and Juliet , cough cough…so you know what? I think all of you need to grow up and lay off the haterade. That’s right. I’m a kid. And YOU have to grow up…

  30. I’m only 11 and I have read the Hunger Games and I don’t see anything wrong with it. Yeah, It has violence and the movie has got a 12A rating, but you don’t have to read or watch it if you don’t want to. The whole concept of Teenagers killing Teenagers, isn’t new. It’s not just, I want to win so I’m going to kill you, sort of thing.

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